Those Were The Days - Iowa
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It's fairly amazing how different the 1971 season would look today. Back then, with very few bowls, the goal was basically "win the conference title and go to the Rose Bowl". There weren't many steps below that. Today, well, let me just lay it out there and then Detlef can go through the 1971 Iowa game.
As you're about to learn, Illinois went 5-6 (5-3) in 1971. Lost the first six; won the last five. 5-3 in the Big Ten would beat every Illini season in the last 27 years besides 2001 and 2007. Those are the only two seasons with a winning conference record since we went 5-3 in 1993 (also a season where we went 0-3 in the non-conference).
The 1971 non-conference schedule? Home for North Carolina (lost 27-0), at #16 USC (lost 28-0), home for #15 Washington (lost 52-14). Just think if that season happened today. I'll use last year's non-conference schedule (since it didn't include a freakshow 10-0 UTSA team). Illinois State, UConn, and Bowling Green. If 1971 Illinois football faces those three in today's college football environment, they go 8-3 (5-3) and maybe have a shot at the Outback Bowl on New Years Day. All by just changing the non-conference schedule to include nobody opponents. Bill Snyder changed the entire world.
As it stood, it was 5-6 (5-3) and a look towards "next year". Here's the story from Detlef:
Illinois travels to Iowa this week. I went in 1995, Illinois won, and I vowed never to return. Last year's loss still grinds my gears as Illinois blew an early lead. This week's tale recalls when Illinois ended its season on a high note against the Black & Gold Huns.
November 20, 1971: Illinois closed out its season against Iowa. Bob Blackman's first season started out horribly at 0-6 with losses to powerhouses like Michigan, Ohio State and USC. However, Illinois had now won four games in a row and had a chance to finish 5-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
Illinois cruised to a 31-0 victory. The Fighting lllini rolled up 514 net yards for the day and completely dominated play all afternoon. Blackman was able to substitute freely and most of the seniors received playing time in their final lllini appearances. Among the seniors was punter Terry Masar (Oak Park), who carried five times for 39 yards at right halfback. Masar also set the Big Ten record for most punts when he boomed his 61st of the season and was named the team's Most Valuable Player. In 1979, Masar opened up a club called Nature's Table where as a student I listened to jazz music. He died in 2011. Rich Wright, another senior who missed playing time with injuries that year, saw action at left halfback, gaining 16 yards in four carries.
Seven lllini running backs gained more than 30 yards Saturday as the rushing yardage totaled a season high of 429 yards. George Uremovich, sophomore left halfback, led the team with 97 rushing yards on 13 carries. However, he suffered a broken nose when Iowa safety Craig Cleamons decked him with a forearm tackle in the second quarter. Uremovich refused to leave the game. Blackman praised Uremovich. "Uremovich showed great courage today," Blackman said. Cleamons also sidelined tight end Jim Rucks (Waukegan) with a vicious tackle in the first half. Rucks was sent to the hospital with between three to five broken ribs , all but ruling out any basketball for Rucks that winter . Blackman felt that the final score was not indicative of the complete domination the lllini showed Saturday. "If we would have kept the first team in the game we could have scored a lot more."
Mike Wells (Normal), junior quarterback completed six of 13 passes for 73 yards and ran for 62 yards on four carries. Wells scored his first touchdown of the year with a four-yard run in the first quarter and ran 42 yards in the third quarter before fumbling on the one-yard line. Bruce Dofcson, sophomore tackle, recovered in the end zone for the score.
Illinois savored the victory by looking towards the 1972 season. Bob Blackman, lllini head coach, praised the squad and then issued a challenge to the people of Illinois. "This team displayed teamwork and unity that hasn't been here in the past. They went out there and played with a lot of poise and confidence. I would like to issue a challenge to the people of Illinois to support this team next year. We have the most attractive home schedule in the nation next year. I will be very disappointed if we don't sell 40,000 season tickets next year." Blackman said.
Illinois finished the season at 5-6, 5-3 in the Big Ten and in third place. Tab Bennett, junior defensive tackle, referred to the importance of the five-game winning streak the lllini produced to end the season. "This sets the stage for next year," Bennett said. "We all hope that we can go on from here and have a fine year next year." Joe Lewis, junior split end, is looking forward to a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl next year. "Next year is my last chance, Lewis said. We had better go to the Rose Bowl next year. I know a lot of players are going to work hard in the off season because we all have something to look forward to next year." Alas, Illinois did not go to the Rose Bowl the next season.
Sources: "Blackman, Illini Look to Next Year" by Gary Wold. Daily Illini: November 23, 1971.